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India proposes fresh talks on Baglihar
Pakistan to move World Bank
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 11
India today proposed fresh technical talks to Pakistan on Baglihar hydel power project even as reports published in the Pakistani media said that Islamabad had decided to approach the World Bank for appointment of neutral experts to resolve the dispute.

Pakistani media had reported today that Pakistan had decided to approach the World Bank on Baglihar project, although no official intimation had come from Pakistan on this. However, indications here were that Islamabad seemed to be interested in exercising the neutral expert option.

Sources in the South Block said that the Government of India was convinced that it had not committed any violation of the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan and the neutral experts, if appointed, would also arrive at the same conclusion.

Pakistan had threatened to approach the World Bank for arbitration on the Baglihar project even though it had never done so with other projects in J&K, particularly Tulbul which had been hanging fire for more than 16 years.

The under-construction 450-MW Baglihar project is scheduled to become operational from December 2007. Taking cue from the fate of the Tulbul project, India had refused to accede to Islamabad’s request for stopping the construction work till a mutually acceptable settlement was reached.

Foreign Office spokesman Navtej Sarna categorically stated today that the Indian side believed that the recently concluded Secretary-level talks on Baglihar were very useful and some convergence of views had appeared. “We also feel that more technical discussions are likely to lead to further convergence and we have offered Pakistan that we should have further technical discussions.”

However, if Pakistan was still to choose to go to the World Bank disregarding the Indian offer for further technical discussions, India would respond appropriately, he made it clear.

“This is the first time that technical discussions were held with data etc and some convergence did appear but since this was the first time there is possibility of increasing this convergence through further technical discussions and that is why we have made the offer.

“... We believe that the data that we have given to Pakistan should convince them that the technical parameters of the project do not violate the Indus Water Treaty provisions. We believe that further technical discussions would be useful as these talks have been. So this is our offer,” Mr Sarna said.

He said the Indian stand on the Baglihar project was clear: that it was a run of the river project and was fully compatible with the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty between the two countries.

In the recently concluded bilateral talks between India and Pakistan on the Baglihar project the Indian side presented quite detailed technical information to the Pakistani side to convince them that there was no ground for any apprehension that the project violated the Indus Water Treaty or any of the technical parameters in the Treaty. The spokesman insisted that this was the first time that such detailed technical discussions were held. On the contrary, the Pakistani side had been maintaining that this was the second time when such Secretary-level detailed technical talks were held.

Islamabad: Pakistan will seek World Bank arbitration in the controversial Baglihar hydropower project after its “last ditch effort”-the secretary-level talks with India-over the issue failed to make any headway. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has directed relevant government departments to make preparations for seeking the World Bank intercession to resolve the Baglihar hydropower project issue with India, The Dawn said today.

The move has come days after three-day secretary-level talks with India this month failed to resolve the issue as both sides stuck to their positions. Pakistan had said that these talks would be the “last-ditch efforts” and threatened to seek an arbitration of the neutral expert or the World Bank if these talks failed to find a solution to the vexed issue.

Islamabad maintains that the Baglihar dam, being constructed by India on the river Chenab in Jammu and Kashmir, violates the 1960 Indus Water Treaty but New Delhi refutes it. Quoting sources, the newspaper said a high-level meeting presided by Prime Minister Aziz yesterday recommended that the case be referred to the World Bank for appointment of a neutral expert.

The World Bank had brokered the bilateral water-sharing treaty and also stood as its guarantor. The treaty gives both the countries the third-party option in case of a deadlock over any issue.

Water and Power Secretary Ashfaq Mahmood, who led the Pakistani delegation at the talks on the Baglihar dam issue in New Delhi last week, presented his report to the meeting. The crux of his report was that Pakistan had a sound case, the sources said.

Attorney-General Makhdoom Ali Khan, who was also present at the meeting, maintained that Pakistan had a strong legal case and recommended that Article IX of the Treaty be invoked.

The article provides for settling disputes through neutral experts or arbitration if they cannot be resolved between the two Indus Water Commissioners.

A formal notification for the appointment of a neutral expert would soon be dispatched to the World Bank, the sources said. The request would go from the Pakistan Indus Water Commissioner to the World Bank President.

Other members of the delegation and senior Foreign Ministry officials also attended the meeting. It is learnt that Ambassadors of the European Union and other countries will be given a detailed briefing in a day or two on Pakistan’s next move on the Baglihar issue at the Foreign Office. — UNI

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